Effortlessness: key to mastery

I’ve been thinking about mastery. To become the master of something, you obviously need to spend a lot of dedicated time with that certain activity (some 10000 hours), learn from those that are better than you are and just be consistent in your training. This applies to cooking, football, Photoshop, BJJ, whatever.

But when you say to yourself “I want to be a master of X”, you’re essentially saying a non-actionable statement. It doesn’t actually mean anything – you’re saying “I want to be really, really good at X” but you’re not saying anything about how it is that you’re going to do it.

In other words, identifying the components of mastery is very important. I have identified one: effortlessness. (I haven’t yet read the book Mastery by Robert Greene but I suppose I will find this insight in it also.)

I’ll try to illustrate this with two Parkour videos:



Okay, so, aside from the edit of the second video, what is the main difference between the two?

If you say age, you’re right, most of the practitioners in the second video really are younger than the guy in the first video. But it’s not even that: it’s how easy he moves compared to the most of the guys from the second video. (Guys from the second video, I’m not trying to bash you, don’t take this too personally, I’m just trying to make a point.)

You see? The difference that makes him a master is that he moves more easily than they do. In other words, if you stop asking the question “What can I do to become a master?” and start asking the question “What can I do to move so easily?”, then you get much more actionable answers: learn to connect jumps and use your own momentum. That’s it. Even if you don’t get any stronger (and don’t increase your vertical or horizontal jump), if you get really good at using your own momentum and connecting the jumps, you’ll move like a master does. EVEN if you’re not stretchy or strong, and everything except connecting the jumps and using momentum stays the same. So easiness, effortlessness is what you’re after if you want to be a master.

Does this apply to the world outside of Parkour? I think it does. It is, in its essence, the idea of Tao, or the Way. The Way is when you do things with ease, be it personal finance, executing a jump, tackling somebody to the ground or cooking a fine meal. Note that ease doesn’t mean sloppiness: the results are always good, it is simply that you don’t seem to make any serious effort for them to happen. You’ve probably said this at some point :”It just seems so… easy when you do it.” You want to find things specific to your skill that will produce this effect of looking easy when you do it. For Parkour it is connecting jumps and using momentum. For MMA it might be switching from stand-up to ground game and back. For violin it might be how you hold it on your shoulder. Every skill has its own thing that, if you get good at it, you’ll achieve general effortlessness and that will mean mastery.


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